What is the purpose of the telescreen in the book 1984?

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In Orwell's classic novel 1984, the authoritarian government uses telescreens as a way to closely monitor and spy on the citizens of Oceania. The government utilizes telescreens as a means of constant surveillance and requires every citizen to have one in their home. A telescreen is a device that functions as a television, microphone, and surveillance camera. Winston Smith and the other citizens of Oceania listen to announcements/propaganda and take instructions from the telescreen. They also have no idea of knowing whether or not government agents are spying on them at any given moment, which dramatically affects their behavior, disposition, and personality. Winston makes it a point to appear amicable and content anytime he faces the telescreen and must pay close attention to what he says in its presence. Orwell created the telescreen to illustrate how governments could use technology to oppress an entire population and subject citizens to constant surveillance. Orwell's creation of the telescreen eerily foreshadows many modern issues regarding internet privacy rights and the government's ability to monitor citizens for national security purposes as discussed in the 2001 Patriot Act.

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The telescreen serves several purposes.  In regards to 1984's characters, it is a monitoring device for Big Brother. Winston does not know for certain that he is always being watched, but he must presume that he is in order to survive.  Ideologically, if a government wants to control its subjects, it must constantly monitor them so that it can curb anyone who does not fall in line with party policy--the telescreen provides the Inner Party with that power.

Orwell also uses the telescreen to get his readers to think about the role that technology could play in their future.  The book, published in 1949, might seem a little ahead of its time, but no doubt a savvy Orwell observed all of the technological advances being made around him and considered just how dangerous that technology could be when used by those who seek absolute power.

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